Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Holy Books, Fire, and Tolerance

Just about a month has passed since I reverently burned my old Bible.  Today, that simple action feels a bit different, particularly in the light of the rioting and killings under way yet again in Afghanistan over the inadvertent burning of some Korans.

The official response of the United States military and the U.S. government has been one of apology, repeatedly affirming the need for us to be culturally sensitive and formally stating a respect for the faith and culture of the Afghan people.   I understand this, and I understand the strategic dynamics that make such statements necessary.

But though I'm progressive, perhaps because I'm progressive, I have a great deal of difficulty finding respect for Afghan culture, and particularly for the form of faith that is manifested in the rioting and killing we've seen.  Yes, I know, some would say it's all our fault that things in Afghanistan are the way they are today.  No one likes an occupier.  There's some truth in that.  I also know that people who struggle in hopeless poverty and under societal oppression often are a tick more...volatile.

And I have no difficulty respecting Islam, with its virtues of charity, mercy and hospitality.  There are plenty of gracious, kind, and peaceful Muslims in this world who find foundation for their graciousness in their faith.

Still and all, I struggle with the idea that the sociocultural and theocratic dynamics of Afghanistan merit acceptance.  There are Afghans who are perfectly decent people, but the culture itself just isn't a positive thing.    It is a train wreck, a mess, oppressive, corrupt, violent, and willfully ignorant.   So I have sensitivity, sure, but in the way you are "sensitive" to that volatile neighbor who likes to get drunk and sit in his front yard with a shotgun, or the way you're "sensitive" to the presence of a nearby piece of unexploded ordnance.

But how can I bring myself to respect a culture that would...if I were Muslim and had burned an old Koran as a respectful way of disposing of it...drag me into the streets and beat me to death?  Or threaten me with violence for associating with someone who had accidentally burned a Koran?  When I burned that Bible and put the video up on YouTube as background for a blog post, I got a tiny speck of fundamentalist trollery on the video...but that's what you'd expect.   It is a far cry from feeling like your life is in danger.  But ours is, for the time being, still a free and open society.

Within the boundaries of my own faith, I have tremendous difficulty with those who take our sacred narratives and turn them into idols.  I see the rigidity of literalism and the idolatrous worship of texts as antithetical to faith, and particularly antithetical to the faith taught by Jesus and spread by Paul.   "..For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life," as the Apostle might say.

If tolerance and acceptance of the other are central values, it is hard to see where to connect with a culture in which those values are essentially rejected.